What's in a name? Everything... Especially these days, when communalism is at its peak

By Sheshu Babu*

" ...Accha hai abhi tak
Tera kuch naam nahi hai
Tujhko kisi majhab se
Koi kaam nahi hai
Jis ilm ne insaanon
Ko taksim kiya hai
Us ilm ka tujhpar koi
Ilzam nahi hai ... "
( .... It is nice that till now
You do not have any name
You have no relation
With any religion
The doctrine that made humans
Divided between themselves
That doctrine has no
Imputation or accusation against you ... "
( From Sahir's lyric in 'Dhool ka Phool' Hindi film (1959) 'Tum hindu banega na musalman banega
Insaan ki aulad hai insaan banega'
You will become neither Hindu nor Muslim
You are born of a human and you will become a human)

In a world where different identities are assigned to different things, human beings also have names to establish identity. But, no one is born with a name: he or she is given a name (along with religion, caste or gender) after birth. Thus, a human being is born as a human being but the individual gets social status after the birth.

History of names

The ' naming ' of a person, therefore, very often, attributes religion, caste, location and socio - cultural norms. This identity remains till the death. In an article ' A Brief Introduction to the History of names' by Scolastica la souriete (1997, Kristine Elliott, heraldry.sca.org), the author traces the old practice of names which have some descriptive meaning and the changes that took place after Norman Conquest (1066) in England.
Thus, names seem to have been modified with changing times. The Etymology of names gives history of lineage and the study 'onomastics' which touches linguistic history, the work and culture of ancient generation to which a person belongs and geographical location. Thus, the entire family history and the religious traditions can be traced by analysing closely a particular name and surname.
In another article ' Names and Personal Identity', H Edward Deluzain, (www.behindthename.com), the author explains how names are used to identify a person in society and community. As the author says, the bestowal of name is a symbolic contract between individual and society. The society, on the other side, recognises the existence and its responsibility towards that person.

Change in pattern

Changes in naming pattern started with the development of civilization and colonisation of nations. Different cultures began to merge and assimilate with each other giving rise to new names. With this, old style of naming began to be discarded. New names rarely give an idea of ancestry and lineage of a person.
These are 'secular' in nature. In the beginning, persons disliking old names began using 'pseudonyms' or 'aliases' to cover their ancestral identity, especially the lower strata of society. But now, many names are originally modern and do not connote a particular caste or religion or even geographical location.
Famous persons like George Orwell (Eric Arthur Blair), Lenin ( Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov) and Mark Twain ( Samuel Langhome Clemens), etc. have rarely used their original names. They have adopted alternative names to conceal their identity.

An alternative

In these days when communalism is at its peak, change in traditional names and assuming new 'secular' or 'irreligious' name may have huge impact on individual and society. People all over the world should try to discourage hatred on the pretext of region or religion or caste and names may play crucial role.
Names also disclose the thoughts of parents and the individual bearer. So, naming of a child is a major incident in the life of parents and in general, society.
*Writer from everywhere and anywhere. When he ponders on the question, 'who am I?' , he receives some response in a lyric written by Bhupen Hazarika 'Ami ek jajabor':
'I am a gypsy
The earth has called me her own
And I have forgotten my home'